California governor shoots down 350-foot no-fly drone law

shutterstock_188506913Pass a 350-foot no-fly law banning drones from buzzing over our heads without our express permission?

Oh no, I think not, California Governor Jerry Brown said on Wednesday as he vetoed Senate Bill 142.

The ban, which would have only affected commercial and private unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), would have meant that “burdensome regulation” and “new causes of action” would have dive-bombed occasional hobbyists and commercial operators approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Governor Brown said in a veto message.

Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination. This bill, however, while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action.

One imagines that the “careful examination” Brown mentions might include strapping the legislation to a drone and sending it to the bottom of the San Andreas Fault.

It is, after all, loathed by commercial drone operators who feared it would have hampered their drone delivery service plans.

Such drone-loving companies – including Google, Amazon and GoPro – fought the legislation, saying that it would crush a burgeoning industry that includes recreational drone use as well as commercial delivery and emergency response services.

One of the trade’s industry groups, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), estimated that UAVs could generate $14 billion in economic impact in California over the next 10 years – money that would be jeopardized by the legislation, it claimed.

That’s rot, according to the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who framed the argument in terms of privacy.

Simply put: if you cannot hop the fence into someone's backyard under current law without the owner's permission, I believe you should not be allowed to do the same with a drone.

Brown said that before California goes down that path – i.e., the path that includes prohibiting drones from flying less than 350 feet above private property without the property owner’s permission – California should “look at this more carefully.”

OK. Sounds good. Look at this issue carefully.

Look at drone usage really, really carefully – but preferably out of the range of birdshot, given some privacy-loving, drone-suspicious people’s tendency to think of grabbing their rifles when they hear approaching UAVs.

California is still pondering another drone bill – SB 168 – that would exonerate emergency workers from disabling drones that get in their way when they’re responding to emergencies, including wildfires.

Image of flying drone courtesy of Shutterstock.com